Protect Your Sprinkler System: Exploring the Causes of Head Breaks

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  • Post last modified:June 5, 2023
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Sprinkler heads can break due to various reasons. The most common causes of accidental discharges of fire sprinklers and system leaks include mechanical damage, equipment failure, corrosion, freezing, and damaged sprinkler heads and pipes. Mechanical damage is a leading cause of accidental sprinkler discharges and includes something as simple as over-tightening a sprinkler head. The components of a fire sprinkler system are joined together like a tightly coiled spring, and the impact from something like an errant basketball can knock them apart and pop open the sprinkler. Sprinkler heads can also get damaged by mowers, vehicles, or someone accidentally stepping on the head. If it's an old system, it can break simply from age.

Sprinkler heads are an important part of any fire safety system, and when they fail it can have disastrous consequences. But what causes them to break? It could be due to improper installation, incorrect sprinkler head type, poor quality materials, clogged sprinkler nozzles, overwatering, sudden temperature changes, animal damage, debris buildup or overuse of the sprinkler system.

In this article we’ll look at each one of these causes in detail so you can understand why your sprinkler heads may be failing and how to prevent it from happening again.

What Causes Sprinkler Heads To Break

Key Takeaways

  • Common causes of broken sprinkler heads include improper installation, incorrect sprinkler head type or size, poor quality materials, and clogged nozzles.
  • Preventative measures to avoid broken sprinkler heads include using high-quality components, routine inspection and maintenance, cleaning out nozzles regularly, and keeping areas around sprinklers free from obstruction.
  • Signs of damage to sprinkler systems include leaking water, broken sprinkler heads, and malfunctioning systems.
  • Recommendations for avoiding broken sprinkler heads include regular professional maintenance, proper upkeep to prevent costly repairs, knowing how to spot potential problems early, and understanding the effects of pressure variations on the system.

Improper Installation

Improper installation is another leading cause of broken sprinkler heads – often, it’s as simple as someone over-tightening a head, but the consequences can be just as devastating. To avoid this, automatic drain valves should be installed to ensure that water doesn’t freeze and expand in the pipes at ground level – if these valves aren’t correctly installed or maintained within the recommended freezing range, they can become blocked and put too much pressure on the sprinkler heads. Additionally, incorrect sprinkler head type or size can lead to an excessive flow rate for a given area; when this occurs, damage or breakage is almost guaranteed.

Incorrect Sprinkler Head Type

Incorrect Sprinkler Head Type

Incorrectly installed sprinkler heads are a major source of system damage and malfunction. Poor quality materials, incorrect sprinkler head type, improper installation, stuck valves, and an insufficient freeze level can all lead to problems with the system. To avoid this issue, it’s important to use smart irrigation systems that are designed to fit your needs. It’s also essential to select the right sprinkler head for your landscape and climate conditions. If you live in an area prone to freezing temperatures, be sure that the freeze level is set correctly; otherwise, it could lead to broken or malfunctioning sprinkler heads.

Additionally, make sure that all valves are functioning properly before installing new heads and inspect the system periodically for any signs of trouble. Lastly, invest in high-quality materials so there are no issues with durability or performance down the road. Taking these steps will help ensure your lawn stays lush and green without any unnecessary stress on your sprinkler system.

Poor Quality Materials

Using low-grade materials can put you in hot water, so it’s important to invest in the highest quality parts when installing a sprinkler system. Poor quality materials increase the risk of broken sprinkler heads due to their increased fragility and susceptibility to corrosion. This is why it’s important to use high-quality components that are designed for outdoor use, like brass or stainless steel sprinkler heads. Not only will these materials last longer, but they will also be able to withstand harsh weather conditions better than more flimsy alternatives.

Investing in higher quality sprinkler head materials can help prevent any unnecessary damage from occurring as well as ensure that your sprinkler system operates correctly and efficiently. To avoid this problem, be sure to check the label on your chosen material before purchasing and never skimp on quality when it comes to something as important as a sprinkler system. Moving forward, clogged nozzles are another potential issue that homeowners must be aware of.

Clogged Sprinkler Head Nozzles

You need to be aware of clogged sprinkler head nozzles if you want to avoid broken sprinkler heads. Clogs can occur when dirt, debris, or other materials get stuck in the nozzle and block the water from flowing through. This can cause a buildup of pressure that eventually leads to the head breaking apart. To prevent this from happening, it’s important to regularly inspect your sprinkler heads for any signs of clogging and clean them out as needed.

Regularly inspecting your sprinkler heads can help prevent clogs and broken heads.If not caught early enough, a clog can lead to a broken head which is costly to repair or replace.
Cleaning out the nozzles regularly helps keep your system running smoothly and efficiently.Clogs are difficult to detect until they become severe enough that they cause damage.

Overwatering is another issue that needs attention in order for your sprinklers to remain intact and functioning properly.


You may think that overwatering your lawn is doing it a favor, but in reality you could be causing serious damage. Studies show that up to 50% of water used on landscaping is wasted due to overwatering, and this can cause the sprinkler heads to break over time. If you’re using lawn mowers and other machinery near the water lines, their vibrations can cause excess pressure on the system which can also lead to broken sprinkler heads.

Furthermore, if you are continuously overwatering your lawn, it will eventually saturate the soil so much that any additional water has no place to go except out through the sprinklers – leading them to malfunction or break down. As such, it’s important to use just enough water when watering your lawn to ensure optimal growth without putting too much strain on your sprinkler system. From here, we move onto pressure variations which can have an equally detrimental effect on sprinkler heads…

Pressure Variations

Pressures that vary too much can strain sprinkler systems, leading to their malfunction or even damage. Pressure variations can be caused by a number of factors and understanding them is important in avoiding issues with your system. High pressure can cause the sprinkler head donut to expand and eventually break off, while lower water pressure may lead to line breaks or worn out sprinkler heads.

High PressureLow Pressure
Sprinkler head donut expansionLine break
Water hammer effectSprinkler heads wear out faster
Pipe ruptureInadequate fire protection coverage
Increased maintenance costsPoor distribution of water flow

Understanding the effects that pressure variations have on your sprinkler system is essential for keeping it running smoothly over time and preventing costly repair bills. Moving forward, we will explore how corrosion impacts the components of a fire suppression system.


Another common cause of broken sprinkler heads is corrosion. Corrosion can occur in the lines and pipes of your fire sprinkler system, leading to a broken line or broken sprinkler head. Left unchecked, corrosion gradually corrodes away at your fire sprinkler system until it’s completely compromised. This compromises not only the integrity of your fire suppression system, but also its effectiveness in cases of an emergency.

It’s important to routinely inspect all components of your fire sprinkler systems for signs of corrosion, such as discoloration or rusting on metal components like pipes and heads. If you notice any signs of corrosion it’s important to repair them before they lead to more serious damage. Taking these precautions can help ensure that your fire sprinklers are always ready when you need them most! The next step is looking into faulty components that may cause a broken head or line in your system.

Faulty Components

Faulty components can be the underlying cause of a broken line or head in your fire sprinkler system, often resulting from decades-old parts that just ain’t what they used to be. These components can include:

  • A worn out or stuck sprinkler valve
  • Seals that are no longer tight enough to keep water pressure in check
  • Corroded pipes and joints that burst under high pressure when heated
  • Sprinklers heads with defective mechanisms that fail to open during an emergency.
    The slightest malfunction in any of these components can lead to a full-blown sprinkler system failure, which could result in massive property damage and even loss of life if not addressed quickly. Sudden temperature changes can also have a negative effect on the integrity of the system; something as small as a tiny bit of frost settling on one of the pipes could spell disaster if left unchecked.

Sudden Temperature Changes

Another factor that can cause sprinkler heads to break is sudden temperature changes. Cold weather can cause frozen soil, which in turn may put pressure on the pipes and the sprinkler heads themselves. Tree roots growing near a sprinkler system, especially during hot summer days, can crack the pipes and damage the sprinkler head as well. During particularly wet seasons, muddy soil may also seep into an unprotected system and displace components leading to broken sprinkler heads. It’s important to inspect any existing piping regularly for signs of damage or leaks due to these sudden temperature changes.

It’s also essential to be aware of any potential risks posed by animals that could potentially damage a sprinkler system and lead to broken heads. From cats who claw at all sorts of objects out of curiosity to birds building their nests in inconvenient places, it pays off tremendously to take preventative measures against animal interference with your garden’s irrigation system. Taking these measures will help ensure that your sprinklers remain functional through all kinds of weather conditions and critter interference.

Animal Damage

You need to be aware of potential animal damage if you have a sprinkler system. Burrowing animals like moles, voles, and gophers can tunnel under the lawn and cause serious damage to pipes or sprinkler heads. If left unchecked, these critters can even pop open a head and send water shooting out in all directions. Therefore, it’s important to do regular professional maintenance on your sprinkler system in order to detect any signs of animal damage early on before it becomes an expensive problem.

In addition, it’s good practice to cover up any exposed piping with wire mesh or hardware cloth as this will help keep these pesky pests from wreaking havoc on your irrigation system. Transitioning now into the subsequent section about debris buildup, make sure you regularly inspect your sprinklers for clogged nozzles and other obstructions that could impede proper functioning.

Debris Buildup

You may not think about it often, but debris buildup around your sprinkler heads can cause them to break. Small rocks, dirt, and other particles can get stuck in the nozzles of your sprinkler system and prevent water from getting out properly. This can lead to clogged nozzles that build up pressure over time and eventually cause the sprinkler head to burst. To prevent this kind of damage from occurring, it’s important to keep an eye on the area around your sprinklers for any buildup of debris or small rocks that could block water flow. By keeping these areas free from obstruction you can help ensure that your sprinkler heads remain intact for a long time.

With regular maintenance and care, you can avoid costly repairs due to broken sprinkler heads caused by debris buildup. Knowing how to spot potential problems before they become more serious will save you both money and time in the long run. So don’t forget to take a few moments every now and then to check for small rocks or other blockages near your sprinklers so you can keep them running smoothly! With proper upkeep, you’ll be able to enjoy the benefits of a well-maintained lawn without worrying about overusing your system or damaging your sprinkler heads due to debris buildup.

Overuse of Sprinkler System

Running your sprinkler system too often can put unnecessary strain on the components, leading to costly repairs. Overuse of a sprinkler system can cause damage to the valves, heads and pipes of the system. Constant running of the sprinkler can wear down seals and gaskets which may lead to leakages in pipes or water getting into places it shouldn’t be. It is important to use your sprinkler system as needed and not overuse it in order to prevent damages. If you find any signs of damage, such as leaking water, then it is recommended that you request a professional for a sprinkler system repair immediately. This will help ensure that all the components are functioning properly and avoid further damage from occurring.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there any warning signs that a sprinkler head is about to break?

Yes, there are warning signs that a sprinkler head is about to break. If the sprinkler head looks worn or damaged in any way, it’s an indication that it may not be working properly. It’s also a good idea to check for rust and corrosion on the pipes and fittings surrounding the sprinkler head. You should also look out for any water seeping from around the base of the sprinkler head, which could indicate that it is loose and needs to be tightened. Lastly, if you hear any rattling noises coming from the sprinkler system, this could mean that something is off balance and could lead to a broken sprinkler head in the future.

Is there a way to prevent sprinkler heads from breaking?

Yes, there are ways to prevent sprinkler heads from breaking. Regular inspections and maintenance of your sprinkler system are the best way to ensure that it is in good working order and able to resist any potential damage. This includes checking for corrosion or wear on components, making sure all connections are secure, and replacing any parts that show signs of damage or age-related wear. If any of the individual sprinkler heads appear damaged or corroded they should be replaced immediately. Additionally, installing protective covers over the sprinklers can help protect them from accidental impacts, such as basketballs or lawn mowers. Taking these steps helps ensure that your sprinkler system is functioning properly and ready to respond in the event of a fire emergency.

How often should sprinkler heads be inspected?

It is important to inspect your sprinkler heads regularly to check for any signs of damage or corrosion. The frequency of the inspections should depend on the age and condition of your sprinkler system, with older systems needing more frequent inspection. Generally speaking, it is good practice to conduct an annual inspection of all sprinkler heads in order to catch any potential issues before they become a problem. This will help ensure that your fire protection system remains in top condition and ready to go when needed.

What should I do if I notice a broken sprinkler head?

If you notice a broken sprinkler head, it’s important to take action quickly. First, shut off the water supply for that particular sprinkler head. This will help minimize any water damage from occurring. Then, check to see if repairs can be done on the spot or whether you need to call in an expert technician. Make sure all other sprinkler heads are inspected as well and replace them if needed. Finally, consider having your entire sprinkler system evaluated by a professional to ensure that it is functioning properly and without any damaged components.

Are there any safety measures to take when dealing with broken sprinkler heads?

Yes, there are a few safety measures you should take when dealing with broken sprinkler heads. First, make sure to wear protective clothing such as gloves and goggles and keep your hands away from the area where the water is spraying out. Secondly, turn off the water supply to the sprinkler head before attempting any repairs or replacements. Lastly, if possible, hire a professional to replace or repair the sprinkler head instead of attempting it yourself – this will ensure that any potential hazards are minimized.


You’ve just learned the most common causes of sprinkler head breakage, and how to prevent it. To keep your sprinkler system functioning properly, you’ll want to make sure you install the right type of sprinkler head for your needs, use quality materials, and watch out for clogs or debris build-up. Additionally, be mindful of sudden temperature changes and animal damage that can cause breakage.

It’s estimated that over 75% of all property fires could have been prevented with proper fire safety precautions – including using a working sprinkler system. By taking the time to understand what causes sprinkler heads to break and how to prevent it, you can help ensure that your property is as safe as possible in case of a fire emergency.